In 2010, the focus of most brand’s SEO efforts involved getting as many backlinks as you could and including as many keywords as possible. This queued lots of keyword bidding and an overall feeling of frustration as marketers from big and small organizations tried to make sense of an ever-changing Google algorithm.
In 2022, marketing efforts and overall success has become much less pedantic and significantly more humanistic in nature. The new name of the game? The brand that provides the best customer experience throughout their entire ecosystem wins. And with this current focus on providing a highly personalized experience, efforts have shifted to understanding customer intent and behavior, and the context – semantics – behind them.
Today, search engine understanding has evolved, and we’ve changed how we optimize for it as a result. The days of reverse-engineering content that ranks higher are behind us, and identifying keywords is no longer enough. Today, you need to understand what those keywords mean, provide rich information that contextualizes those keywords, and firmly understand user intent.
These things are vital for SEO in an age of semantic search, where machine learning and natural language processing are helping search engines understand context and consumers better.
So what exactly is semantic search, why is it essential for SEO, and how do you optimize your content for it? Let’s dive in and find out.
First Things First: What is Semantic Search?
Semantic search describes a search engine’s attempt to generate the most accurate SERP results possible by understanding based on searcher intent, query context, and the relationship between words.
By now, you have probably noticed that Google has gotten surprisingly good at understanding and answering the questions you ask. It wasn’t always that way, but in recent years the search engine has rolled out numerous updates to improve the understanding behind the intent of a query that is typed into the search engine. This is the onus behind semantic search.
Semantic search drives an enhanced level of understanding behind the meaning of search queries (let’s not forget that 15% of searches have never been made before), returning results that are both more relevant but also personalized, a highly valuable commodity in today’s focus on personalized service and experience.
In short, the main thing to understand that semantic search uses the intent, query context, and the relationships between words to produce the most accurate search results.
Semantic Search: An Example
Let’s say you decide to run a search for “a boy who lives in a cupboard under the stairs and becomes a warlock.”
Google, of course, knows that you mean Harry Potter. But how? Semantic search works to drive much more than the answers to the questions that we ask.
Google takes a search query and returns the result by understanding the intent and the context behind how these words you typed in are connected.
And it doesn’t just stop there. Google -and search engines in general – have utilized AI to now know a lot more about us, remember a lot more about us, and track much more about us.
Search for a plumber? Google knows your location and returns local results.
Search for “restaurants near me”? Google knows your location and returns information for restaurants near you.
Search for “corona”? Google understands the context. If it were a search made 12 months ago, you would have seen results about beer; now it is the virus.
Search for “Amazn”? Google knows that you misspelled Amazon and returns results accordingly.
Much like how the smartest marketers are using AI and deep data to better personalize and build customer relationships, semantic search also deploys both these attributes to provide you with a more relevant, more personalized search.
What Does Semantic Search Mean for SEO Efforts?
So what does semantic search mean for SEO?
- At the top level, it means a search engine that better understands a user’s search query and the ability to serve more relevant, personalized SERPs. But in terms of the ways SEOs need to approach optimizing for semantic search, this means:
- Thinking about topics, not just keywords.
- Understanding that high-volume keywords matter less than they once did, and that long-tail, related keywords, and quality content matter more than ever.
- There is a distinct need to analyze and understand search intent before creating content. There is also a need to format your content to fit the query type and the SERP features you may want to win.
- That structured data and having access to first- and zero-party data – is a must.
In many ways, optimizing for semantic search is what we should now be thinking of as best-practice SEO, but what should inherently stand out is the need to create content and optimize it for users, not search engines as we have done in the past.
Think about how your customers are searching for your products, services, and their search intent. Then place this as your primary focus.
How to Optimize Your Content for Semantic Search Success
Wondering how to optimize your content for semantic search to increase your site’s organic visibility? Here are five things you need to make sure you are considering:
1. Think Topics, Not Keywords
It is time to stop optimizing for single keywords and start optimizing for topics.
Is keyword research as we know it dead? Of course not, it’s just become more complicated.
Google understands that searches like “home renovation loans,” “home improvement loans,” and “loans for home renovations,” mean the same thing. The intent is the same, meaning that the content returned for each of the queries should be pretty much the same.It will at least be the same page on a site that should rank for all of these queries.
You might have created separate pages to target singular, plural, and other variations of a keyword in the past. But it would help if you were not doing this in today’s world. Ideally, it would help if you never had in the first place, but as Google has become better at understanding semantics, this has become even more important.
2. Understand and Optimize for Search Intent
Every search query that a user types into Google is essentially a question that reflects your audience’s intent. Understanding it can be a daunting challenge as you are trying to get into your users’ heads. But if you can create content that satisfies this intent, you will find it far easier to rank at the top of the SERPs.
And you can look at this from the way that search intent usually falls into three main categories:
Learning something (informational)
Buying something (transactional)
Finding something (navigational)
These informational, transactional, and navigational intents correspond with informational, transactional, and navigational keywords accordingly.
For example, if someone is looking to compare smartphones, the search engine will not offer them to buy some in the first place, because it understands they are in an informational stage, not lower in the funnel looking to make a transaction. This means you need to be creating different content to satisfy different intents. While you may think that creating additional content for the same or similar keywords is duplicating your efforts, it may not be. Take the time to analyze the SERPs to understand the different intents for the topics you are targeting. If creating content at this level seems over whelming, experienced content creators like the team at Group FiO can help you determine how to maximize your content approach for best results.
3. Use Semantic HTML
A great starting point in optimizing for a semantic web is to use semantic HTML Unfamiliar with this concept?
HTML.com describes this as:
Semantic markup is the use of a markup language such as HTML to convey information about the meaning of each element in a document through proper selection of markup elements, and to maintain complete separation between the markup and the visual presentation of the elements contained in the document.
To a certain extent, this means rethinking the way we write our code. You are likely familiar with HTML elements like <span> and <div>. These are non-semantic. They do not indicate the contents. However, look at a semantic tag such as <header>, <footer> or <article>.
These provide a clear understanding of what is contained within these elements. You can learn more about semantic HTML by contacting the team at Group FiO to better understand how proper content tags and preparation can maximize your ranking efforts.
4. Optimizing Content for the Featured Snippet
The Featured Snippet, or position zero, is one of the most desired SERP features to grab and is based upon semantic search.
To land the coveted featured snippet, you need to show Google that the answer your web page provides to a searcher’s question is the most direct and helpful on the web. It is a bold claim to make. But if you want to win the featured snippet, that’s where you need to aim, and a place where Group FiO can help you land.
5. Build Links That Demonstrate Relevance
Both internal links and backlinks can demonstrate topical relevance and help Google understand your content better. And while it is easy to assume that the links you earn could come from anywhere, as long as they are authoritative and editorial, you will see a better impact when these topically align.
Why? Because these links are helping Google to understand your content better. Think carefully and plan a solid link building strategy that targets links that position you as an expert in your field, and you will see benefits. At the same time, do not underestimate the power of internal links. They are just as important as backlinks, especially when demonstrating the topical connection between two pages.
Building a Semantic Search Strategy
Search engines continue to add semantic features to fine-tune their ability to understand user intent.And this is not going to change any time soon.
Keeping pace with the evolving algorithms requires constant optimization efforts, but it makes life easier for users. By ensuring that your content strategy includes developing content that covers different types of intent, you can better answer the questions users are searching for, which gets more traffic to your website, more customers in your database, and better relationships with your long-term clients.